The Mesh Explains Why the Present and Future of Business is Sharing (Book Review)
Photo credit: The Mesh by Lisa Gansky.
Lisa Gansky sees a new emerging business model emerging. One she has dubbed, The Mesh. "... one in which consumers have more choices, more tools, more information, and more power to guide those choices." A model "based on network-enabled sharing—on access rather than ownership."
In her book, Lisa notes the primary benefit to business is that they can "sell" the same product multiple times and in doing so build up a profile of customer needs and actions to further refine the business. The upside for customers is that they get use stuff without all the hassles of owning it, like insurance, maintenance, storage and so on.
At TreeHugger we've been prattling on about sharing or Product Service Systems (PSS) for years. Is The Mesh any different? Lisa seems to thinks so. Networking Technologies
Gansky is of the firm belief that the arrival of digital networking and related technologies will explode the market for sharing of physical products like never before. Social network services in the vein of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn connect people, and increasingly so, businesses with people. Associated technologies like GPS, UPS Tracking, WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth, PayPal, and others allow for real time information to be communicated.
With new mobile communications, businesses can reach their customers wherever they are, with special deals and new offers. If customers like what is offered, they, in turn, are encouraged to spread those same deals out to their broader social network. By keeping one customer happy, a business can effectively leverage their exposure to multitudes more. And it has been proven time and again that people are more likely to engage in a business transaction if it was recommended by a friend, or someone whose opinion they trust.
Photo credit: Living Christmas
How Does it Work?
So how does The Mesh work in real life? Gansky leads off her book with the currently topical story of Scott Martin, who set up a business called Living Christmas, which rents out live Christmas trees in pots. Trees are ordered online, they can be delivered, along with decorations and after Christmas the service can collect the tree and return it to a nursery, where it's attended to folk with disabilities, until next Chrissie comes around. Everyone wins.
Photo credit: Roomorama
Other case studies include Roomorama. A peer-to-peer platform for renting out your home as short-stay time-share accommodation. In early 2010 it had 4,000 listing in the USA and expanded to Spain, France, Canada and Britain. Crushpad allows members to make wine, according to their own specs and tastes, without owning a winery or vineyard.
Photo credit: Crushpad
And there is ThredUp, which started out a swap service for men's apparel but soon became an online swap system for children's pre-loved clothing and toys. A service that acknowledges that kids are constantly growing out of their clothes and playthings and always in need of different sizes and age appropriate toys. Larger scale luminaries of the Mesh include NetFflix and Zipcar.
Photo credit: ThredUp
The Mesh contains a 55 page Directory of hundreds more examples of enterprises that thrive by providing customers with the goods they need, but don't require the expense or waste of ownership. This Mesh Directory is updated on website designed to promote the network of sharing.
The book itself is easy to read and moves along at a jaunty pace, although at times is a tad repetitive. I found it odd that Lisa did not overtly acknowledge the Product Service Systems (PSS) movement that has long promoted shared usage. Admittedly, though, her term for the trend is rather more catchy.
As with any kind of trendspotting there will inevitably be a few cases where a long bow is drawn, to make an otherwise disparate picture seem more cohesive. Lisa Gansky has taken on the difficult task of combining the description of existing businesses, with a foretelling of how such an industry might grow. And in doing so, projects a business model seen through always positive, rose-coloured glasses. But certainly the book is peppered with enough successful, living, breathing examples to suggest she is genuinely on to something.
Obviously, from a greener, more sustainable lifestyle, point of view, one would hope she is onto something important and powerful. Aside from the inherent environmental benefit in consuming less and sharing more, Lisa Gansky also has a few ideas on how a Mesh style business will directly impact on environmental issues. "The flow of information about the products, including feedback from customers, is constant. As a result, favored are built to last and keep functioning, adapt to different users, and be capable of repair and upgrading. The logic of the throwaway culture is completely reversed." She talks about "heirloom design", as something that's built to endure for generations.
Density is Best
If there is a downside to the Mesh business model, it may be that Lisa sees it benefiting city dwellers more than folk living ion rural settings. "The proximity of businesses in an urban cluster speeds up sharing of expertise and labor pools, makes opportunities easier to spot, and promotes cooperation around common market goals. The Mesh, which is built on sharing information, markets and social networks, is particularly well poised to take advantage of these clusters."
Elsewhere in the book, Gansky expresses the view that the current convergence of technologies and services also makes it easier to start up a business based on sharing and networking, citing the example that she calculates a business she was involved in setting up at the cost of $60 million (Ofoto), could now be created from scratch for a 10% of that cost.
So, if you have in mind a business which can 'sell' the same product over and over to many people, that taps into peoples' love of social network media, whilst saving our planet from further exhaustion (through reduction of resource extraction and product waste), grab a copy of The Mesh.
Better yet, in keeping with the spirit of the book, ask your local library to get in a copy, so it's important insights can be shared by many.
Read more about The Mesh. Why The Future of Business is Sharing by Lisa Gansky.
Don't miss TreeHugger's Brian Merchant coverage of Lisa Gansky expounding her Mesh ideas at PopTech.
More on Mesh businesses and Product Service Systems:
Tool Libraries: The Sharpest Tack in the Shed
EcoTip: Product Service Systems (PSS)
LendAround Wants You To Share And Share Alike
SunEdison: a Product Service System (PSS)
Hire Things (and Cahooting)